An Equation to Build a Brighter Future - Part 2

Table Of Contents

In this second article, I will talk about the equation we can use to build a brighter future and about "What technology promised us."

Part 1 was about my view of a bright future, and why I think it is something worth fighting for.

What is Short-circuit evaluation?

In programming, there is a concept called 'Short-circuit evaluation.'

It is a way to "short-circuit" a calculation in a computer program, with the intent to calculate faster/more efficient, if possible. 

I think the concept is an excellent mental model to use for how we may be able to build a brighter future more efficiently.

So what does a short-circuit evaluation look like? And how does it work?

"... is the semantics of some Boolean operators in some programming languages in which the second argument is executed or evaluated only if the first argument does not suffice to determine the value of the expression."Wikipedia

The Wikipedia definition looks pretty good. Let's unpack it a bit. First, by explaining what a boolean operator is.

Boolean operator

In a simplified way, a boolean operator is a symbol or word used to connect two or more logical sentences/expressions. Commonly used ones are 'OR' and 'AND.'

Both operators have representations in computer language too:

  • '|' (a pipe) for 'OR'
  • '&' for 'AND.'

Box full of kittens

A box full of colorful kittens's a box full of kittens.

For the sake of example, let's say I have a box full of kittens (in all colors), because, why the hell not; and I would make a statement to a robot (running a computer program):

  • "Deliver me a TABBY KITTEN | WHITE KITTEN." - I get the tabby.
  • "Deliver me a TABBY KITTEN & WHITE KITTEN." - I get both a tabby kitten and a white kitten.

In both cases, the robot would evaluate, even if it already grabbed a tabby, if there was a white kitten. Not that efficient in the case of the | ('OR') operator, but it looks harmless.

But think about a box full of kittens as a huge box — one which has thousands upon thousands of kittens. Maybe the white kitten was at the bottom, not visible; the robot first has to look through the box of thousands of kittens to see if there was a white one, and then do nothing with it.

Not efficient at all!

Tabby-less box

If we have a box, but it doesn't contain tabby kittens, then the same goes for the '&' operator. The robot finds no tabby, but will still look for a white cat, even though you need both for your statement to be TRUE.

Is there a better way? YES, short-circuit evaluation!

We'll grab the same kitten-example as above, but change the evaluation of the operators a bit. We turn it into a short-circuit evaluation. It looks just a bit different:

  • "Deliver me a TABBY KITTEN || WHITE KITTEN." - I get the tabby.
  • "Deliver me a TABBY KITTEN && WHITE KITTEN." - I get both a tabby kitten and a white kitten if they are in the box

See the difference? The statements have two |'s and two &'s within them.

What will happen is that, when the robot evaluates statement #1 and finds a tabby kitten in the box, he won't look for a white kitten, which saves a lot of time.

The same goes for the second statement if it's the case that there is a tabby-less box of kittens. If there is no tabby to be found, the robot won't look for the white kitten.

Ok, that was a little longer than I intended, but it is essential to get right. Because in the last part of this article, I will explain how this evaluation relates to us building a brighter future. First up, though, so as to tell WHY we need short-circuit evaluation, is "What technology promised us."

Technology promised us things

The promises of technology are plentiful. I think there are three big promises, though, that have had and continue to have a significant impact on our lives. 

  1. The promise of Information and Knowledge availability for all.
  2. The promise of Connectedness (with everyone and anyone).
  3. The promise of being more productive and having all the 'things' you wanted. E.g., Automation.

Information overload

Information overload is like drinking from a fire hydrant.

The promise of an abundance of information assured us that we would know more, see more, and be smarter. But instead, we are leaning on technology so much that we don't see the work required to get to know something (or someone) truly. Especially the work to get to know yourself.

Information at our fingertips has become a crutch that we can't live without, lest we "miss something."

We don't look at the sky to see what the weather will be in 15 minutes, but we open a weather app.

We rely on navigation apps to find our way home, but we don't feel at home without our phone.

The amount of information we can look up is practically infinite. Yet, we discover less and less because all information is personalized and ephemeral, swiped away within three point four seconds.

Everyone is your friend

Then there is the ease with which we can connect through the internet, promising use we can make friends everywhere and be friends with everyone. 

It is so easy to click 'Like' on something. But what it actually does, is make the connections we have shallow. More "friends" on Facebook or more followers on Twitter does not equal an actual emotional and deep relationship.

Internet troll behind laptop.

On the other hand, this "Connectedness" enables people to anonymously harras one another over the web, blurting out a stream of judgmental comments with impunity. Believing it makes them feel good about themselves, but actually dying a little bit inside every time.

You see, most people would be totally different in a face-to-face conversation. Much more accepting of others' views and quirks.

Note: Something I may write about at a later point, but I want to mention here anyway, is the fact that individuals can now be influenced en masse by states and big corporations without them knowing it. Essentially 'hacking their mind' through what people see on the phones all day. This "mind-hacking" creates an even more divided world, precisely the opposite of what the insurance of technological communication was.

Robot slaves

Scary looking futuristic robot
Photo by Arseny Togulev

And the last of the big three promises is the guarantee of Automation, making life easier and better. 

"You can get anything you want done-for-you with the click of a button."

If everything is simple to get, it is so much easier not to value the product or service. 

And not to mention the impact of robots taking the jobs of hard-working people—which I actually don't mind, be it for the fact that the resulting profit is going to people that don't know what to do with the money— leaving people struggling to find meaning after being laid off.

Automation can have a dark side, which is that it magnifies a particular direction. If that direction is one which is harmful or 'wrong,' then it is also increased. Think about all the greed, fear, and violence there is in the world. These bad, but inherently human, characteristics also get magnified.

On top of that, people don't value doing things manually anymore. The profound transformation some work (like woodworking, painting, writing, or blacksmithing) can have on an individual human being is so significant. But, alas, it is not appreciated enough to make it profitable for people to pursue.

We have become slaves to "the robots" as opposed to having robots as slaves.

There's more

There are more promises technology gives us, such as:

  • longer life through Health-tech (but what value is there when you don't really feel 'alive'?)
  • better schooling through Edu-tech (but classes are so full there's no time to deliver high-grade education).

For the sake of brevity, though, I focused on (what I think are) the three big promises of technology.

But it will be better, right?

The promises of technology have not been fulfilled. And many have even backfired. 

The relevant question is:

Will technology be able to satisfy those promises at some later point, or are the things we want to solve, not technology problems at all?

Are they really problems inherent to humanity? Is our human nature something we need to look at more? Is technology covering up our human nature, hiding it away as if it is nonexistent, thinking, "We left that behind after World War 2?"

It is pretentious to believe that we are better people than we were 500 years ago, or even just 50 years ago.

I'd argue that technological innovation, useful in many ways, remarkable even, is undoubtedly a knife that cuts both ways.

Thus, we cannot ignore our human nature in the light of a more technologically advanced world. 

We ignore human nature at our peril.

The Equation

We should not be ignoring our humanity, which is precisely why I think using the Mental Model of short-circuit evaluation can be helpful.

Thus, as I promised, I now come back to how Technology and Humanity fit into this model and what it means to us.

BrightFuture = Humanity | | Technology

Remember, the '|' (pipe) is the operator for 'OR.' Below, the equation (statement) in a more readable form:

A Bright Future can be delivered if we find the expression for Humanity to be TRUE, or the expression for Technology to be TRUE.

Using short-circuit evaluation

But, as I described in the previous section, we can't bank on technology alone to enable us to grasp that brighter future, which is why I use the 'Short-Circuit Evaluation' version of the OR-operator. Meaning, a computer program will first try to evaluate the initial expression in the statement (Humanity).

Humanity first

And putting Humanity as the statement's starting expression means we first need to find a route to a Brighter Future within Humanity for the expression to be TRUE (and it better be, or else we'll have a problem).

You see, technology is mostly a magnifier of our human condition. Hoping it will solve most problems is naive. Even if there is a future where technological innovation can solve most problems in the world, we don't know what that future looks like. We aren't aware of the unknown unknowns of future (and current) technology that can cause serious (existential) harm.

What we do understand is human beings, to an extent.

So for me it is logical to focus on the first part of the statement (Humanity).

And that's why the short-circuit evaluation is helpful as a model; if we look at humanity first, we don't need to look for a technological panacea on the other side of the 'OR'-operator.

This prioritization on human beings gives us time and energy to focus on making ourselves, humanity, better.

We may be able to create a brighter future, without solely relying on technology to do that for us.

If new technology emerges during or after that improvement of humankind, then it is a bonus.

You see, if we first manifested ourselves into better humans, I'd argue we are much better prepared for the challenges that impressive technology can bring us down the line. 

And if Humanity's "expression" does not resolve to 'TRUE'?

If we are unable to find a route to a bright future within humanity, then a computer program evaluating the statement would continue to look at the next expression, Technology, to check if that can deliver a Bright Future.

And if it resolves to TRUE in that case, we already lost, because it would be a Bright Future without humanity.

If both expressions resolve to FALSE, we're in for a bad time (if we're there to experience it at all).

So, go for broke, I'd say! Humanity First!

Diverse set of people all putting hands together, united.
Photo by Perry Grone

Future steps in this series?

I may talk about specific, direct-to-human, methods of improving ourselves.

A highlight of a few things I think about:

  • Meditation
  • Writing
  • Conversation
  • Therapy
  • Psychedelics
  • Habits
  • etc.
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